The last time I talked with Joe Bowman, we were sharing a table at an NRA banquet in Louisville, Kentucky. We were companions by chance, but it was one of those random occurrences that has stayed with me. While we were sitting there, I had a few minutes to ask him about his experiences and a lifetime as an exhibition shooter, cowboy, bootmaker, and shooting coach to Hollywood."Gone west..." Jim and I have been lucky — no, more like privileged and honored — to walk with the legends of our culture. Joe Bowen was a tangible link to a different, maybe better time. He personified the Cowboy Way. I saw Joe briefly at EOT, but I was running around like crazy, so I just waved and mouthed, "Later..." Joe smiled and nodded.
"This country was based on the freedom of men," Joe told me, "those freedoms are still our ideals. That's why I've been a supporter of the NRA for so many years."
At the time, I had no idea how much more Joe had done to support his country. Later, I learned he was a certified World War II hero whose medals included a combat infantryman's badge (4 stars) a bronze star and purple heart.
When the dinner was over, Mr. Bowman stood slowly, shook my hand and told me he'd been "honored to share the evening" with me. The honor was all mine- and I still have the playing card he signed for me after amazing me with a couple of off-the-cuff card tricks.
There won't be any more dinners with Joe, and we're all poorer for the loss.
On May 28, on his way back from End of Trail, Joe Bowman "The Straight Shooter" joined his friends and contemporaries who have already "gone west."
Those of us who knew Joe, either by lucky association, longtime friendship or just having seen one of his exhibitions of fancy shooting, gun twirling and card tricks, knew he was unique.
For years, he represented Ruger firearms. In fact, he took great pride in telling me that he'd put "tens of thousands of rounds" through his Rugers and they'd "never missed a trick" working "as reliably today as they did when they were brand-spanking new."
Smiling, Joe confided, "none of us can say that, can we?"
His loss is being felt at Ruger and across the industry.
"Joe Bowman was a true ambassador for Ruger and the shooting industry," says Ruger's Mike Fifer, "He was a gifted shooter and entertainer, war hero, and a real gentleman."
"Joe," he concluded, "will be sorely missed by all of us."
That is a sentiment being echoed through the shooting industry, and justifiably so.
Joe's passing breaks another living link to a generation of men's men whose word was their bond and love for their country was unquestioned.
Joe could speak fondly of Roy Rogers, Jock Mahoney, John Wayne, Yakima Canutt, and other legends of the silver screen. After all, he taught gun handling to Gene Hackman, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Robert Duvall (among others) and was appointed "Ambassador of Goodwill" by four Texas governors, including George W. Bush.
He performed thousands of shows, including command performances for King Hussein of Jordan and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Throughout it all, Joe Bowman remained a gentleman, exemplifying the quiet strength and courtesy of a man from what is a rapidly disappearing generation of Americans.
Yesterday, as word spread of Joe's death, Sheriff Jim Wilson described Bowman as "a really good guy. And he always looked 20 years younger than he was. In years past, he made boots and gun rigs for the various Hollywood cowboys, and wasn't a bad hand at engraving a gun, either."
Yep, he was all that and a great representative for the sport of shooting - and mankind in general.
We'll miss him.